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I’ve Worked Hard And I’m Delighted To Get The Opportunity – Fitzgerald

I’ve Worked Hard And I’m Delighted To Get The Opportunity – Fitzgerald

Luke Fitzgerald has spoken of his determination to make the most of his first start for Ireland in almost four years as he lines out on the left wing against Scotland on Saturday.

The fit-again Luke Fitzgerald makes his long-awaited return to the green jersey, some 16 months since he appeared as a second half replacement during Ireland’s 2013 GUINNESS Series defeat to New Zealand.

A worrying run of injuries, including hip, abductor and groin problems, have curtailed Fitzgerald’s opportunities at both provincial and international level in recent years, but the 27-year-old has shown huge mental and physical resolve to come back time and again.

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He has impressed in the blue of Leinster of late, turning in five full 80-minute performances in the European Champions Cup this season, and his hard work has paid off with a recall to the Ireland team.
“It’s any guy’s dream to be involved in the starting fifteen and I’m lucky enough to pull on the green jersey this weekend. I say lucky, but I probably don’t believe that. I’ve worked really hard to get back in this position and I feel all that hard work is vindicated,” he said.

“It’s hard when you feel like you’re a million miles away and you’re close to retiring because you just can’t figure out injuries. I find it really hard to say ‘it’s lucky’ to be in. I’m blessed to be in the position, but I’ve worked really hard and I’m delighted to get the opportunity.

“I was pretty close (to giving up), with some major injuries. I didn’t really see a way back and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. It was funny given all the major structural ones I have had, that it was a soft tissue injury that I was close to calling it a day on. I couldn’t figue it out.”

That very groin injury forced Fitzgerald through a frustrating seven-month absence and although he showed plenty of diligence and determination through the rehab process, it was a visit to the Santry Sports Surgery Clinic that really helped him to turn a corner.

“What was really causing the issue was an underlying structural issue in terms of how I was moving and not knowing that. And when something becomes a recurring problem, when you don’t know the actual underlying issue, it was really frustrating.

“In around about September last year we decided to go to the ACL clinic out in Santry and got unbelievable results out there pretty quickly and that really turned things around for me going forward and managing an injury like this.”

Fitzgerald has produced some eye-catching display for Leinster in recent weeks, leading to a deserved Ireland call-up and Joe Schmidt, a noted admirer of the 2009 Grand Slam winner’s abilities, had him as the 24th man for the games against France, England and Wales.

Fitzgerald admitted that he had hoped for a start earlier in the campaign, but was adamant that changing a winning team was tricky. Ireland’s 10 successive wins were not easily acheived and those who had kept their places were playing well.

As a seasoned professional coming back into the fold, the Blackrock College clubman says he is not nervous about his Test comeback. There is no doubt that he is relishing this chance to help Ireland finish the Championship on a high in Edinburgh.

“I was a closer spectator than most, these last few weeks! When you are that close, it is really, really hard, unfortunately, to stay positive. You have to give the guys support and be very, very professional. That is the key,” he explained.

“You have to work really hard, keep the head down, be vociferous in training. Be confident and do all the basics right, every day. You have to try and get the guys prepared for the games at the weekend as well as possible.

“That is a really tough thing to do as well. There are 35, 36 guys in and everyone wants to play. Everyone is trying. I’m absolutely delighted. I’ve worked hard and I’m so excited.

“Obviously it’s a big game. For myself, I feel I’ve nothing to prove. I’ve played a good few times for Ireland at this stage. People know what I’m about. I just have to go out and execute what I’m good at.”

Fitzgerald has grown parts of his game during the time he has been out of the international set-up. The different styles of coaching under Schmidt and Matt O’Connor have given him new ideas on the game, bringing him on as a player in the process.

He says the goal for any player is to get a long run of uninterrupted game-time. The problem he has had since his last Ireland start in August 2011 is just that. A stark reminder of Fitzgerald’s injury troubles is that Jamie Heaslip, a fellow debutant from Ireland’s 2006 win over the Pacific Islanders now has 71 caps to his name. Fitzgerald’s tally stands at 27.

However, encouragingly for himself and the Ireland coaches and supporters, the former Lion feels he is in the best position physically to make to the most of his return to international action.

Speaking about replacing Simon Zebo in the number 11 jersey, Fitzgerald noted: “I don’t think I can do what Simon does. I can do what I do. That is what I am in the team to do – bring that lateral movement. It is the strongest part of my game – that footwork, beating guys, drawing in defenders, creating opportunities for myself and for others. That is what I am in the team to do.

“50% of the game is defence, is it not? That is a really huge part of my game. I feel like I am really strong in that aspect. A lot of the things I am good at probably fit the team really well anyway. I don’t really feel I am an individual player.

“Maybe some things I do might be different to what some other guys do. I eluded to that earlier on with the lateral movement and the footwork. But aside from that, defensively, work ethic-wise, I always feel like I am a team player. Whenever I am in the team, I feel like I will benefit the team first.”